The Voting News Weekly: The Voting News Weekly for May 25-31 2015

burundi_260The Supreme Court agreed to hear Evenwel v. Abbott, a case that will answer a long-contested question about a bedrock principle of the American political system: the meaning of “one person one vote.” Richard Hasen examines the case in an editorial in Slate Magazine. The NCSL Canvass considers the ramifications of the fact that most of the equipment in use around the nation was bought with federal money made available through the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) – before smartphones were invented, and even iPods were new technology – and a significant portion of the country uses equipment that was bought well before that. A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in a Montana case could make it more difficult for states to defend their restrictions on the amount of money that individual donors give candidates in state elections. A bill that would allow major political parties to hold a presidential-preference primary election passed the Nevada Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections Committee on Thursday — a day after the same committee voted against the measure. A mandate to replace AVS WINVote voting machines has stretched the budgets of some Virginia localities. Burundian president Pierre Nkurunziza’s controversial bid to stand for a third term in office suffered a new blow on Saturday after it emerged a top a election official had fled the country and the newly-elected UK government has ruled out extending the right to vote in the upcoming EU referendum to all British citizens living abroad, despite a promise made by the Conservative party chairman that it would.

National: Elections Technology: Nine Things Legislators May Want to Know | The Canvass

What makes you lose sleep?” That’s what NCSL staff asked members of the National Association of State Election Directors back in September 2012. The answer wasn’t voter ID, or early voting, or turnout, as we expected. Instead, it was this: “Our equipment is aging, and we aren’t sure we’ll have workable equipment for our citizens to vote on beyond 2016.”That was NCSL’s wake-up call to get busy and learn how elections and technology work together. We’ve spent much of the last two years focusing on that through the Elections Technology Project, funded by the MacArthur Foundation. One thing we learned is that virtually all election policy choices have a technology component. Just two examples: vote centers and all-mail elections. While both can be debated based on such values as their effect on voters, election officials and budgets, neither can be decided without considering technology. Vote centers rely on e-poll books, and all-mail elections depend on optical scan equipment to handle volumes of paper ballots.Below are nine more takeaways we’ve learned recently and that legislators might like to know too. Most of the equipment in use around the nation was bought with federal money made available through the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). That was before smartphones were invented, and even iPods were new technology. And a significant portion of the country uses equipment that was bought well before that. Read More

Editorials: How the Money Primary Is Undermining Voting Rights | Ari Berman/The Nation

In November 1963, Evelyn Butts, a seamstress and mother of three from Norfolk, Virginia,
filed the first lawsuit in federal court challenging her state’s $1.50 poll tax. Annie Harper, a retired domestic worker from Fairfax County, filed a companion suit five months later. In March 1966, the Supreme Court overruled two previous decisions and overturned Virginia’s poll tax, stating that economic status could not be an obstacle to casting a ballot. “Fee payments or wealth, like race, creed, or color, are unrelated to the citizen’s ability to participate intelligently in the electoral process,” wrote Justice William Douglas in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections. “We conclude that a State violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment whenever it makes the affluence of the voter or payment of any fee an electoral standard.” Six years later, in Bullock v. Carter, the Supreme Court held that economic status could not be the primary impediment for those seeking elected office, striking down a system of filing fees in Texas that charged prospective candidates up to $8,900 to place their name on the ballot. “We would ignore reality,” wrote Chief Justice Warren Burger, “were we not to recognize that this system falls with unequal weight on voters, as well as candidates, according to their economic status.” Read More

Editorials: Only Voters Count? Conservatives ask the Supreme Court to restrict states’ rights and overturn precedent. | Richard Hasen/Slate

For the second time in a year, the Supreme Court has agreed to wade into an election case at the urging of conservatives. In both cases it has done so despite the issue appearing to be settled by long-standing precedent. In a case expected to be decided next month, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, conservatives asked the court to bar states from using independent redistricting commissions to draw congressional lines. In a case the court agreed to hear Tuesday, Evenwel v. Abbott, conservatives asked the court to require states to draw their legislative district lines in a particular way: Rather than considering the total population in each district, conservatives argue, the lines should instead divide districts according to the number of people registered or eligible to vote. Most states use total population for drawing districts, which includes noncitizens, children, felons, and others ineligible to vote. In both Supreme Court cases, there is great irony in the fact that they are being brought by conservatives, who usually claim to respect precedents and states’ rights. The challengers are not only asking the court to revisit issues that seemed to be settled by decades-old precedent. If successful, these cases will undermine federalism by limiting states’ rights to design their own political systems. Read More

National: The ‘One Person, One Vote’ Case Relies On Statistics That Nobody Has | FiveThirtyEight

“One person, one vote” is a deceptively simple promise, but a Texas woman wants to clarify which persons count. On Tuesday the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Evenwel v. Abbott, a suit that challenges exactly who should be counted as a person when states draw their district boundaries in pursuit of proportional representation.The plaintiffs are challenging the usual method (counting total number of people living in a district) and are asking that states use the total number of eligible voters instead. The trouble is, we don’t have robust statistics on the number of eligible voters. If the Supreme Court were to set new standards for districting, we would need to overhaul the nation’s statistics and surveys. Read More

Editorials: What if congressional districts were drawn based on voters, not total population? | Philip Bump/The Washington Post

A case before the Supreme Court raises an esoteric but important question: Who do politicians represent? Our Amber Phillips has a thorough explanation of the ins-and-outs of the case. But the essential question is whether political districts should be drawn based on the number of people that live in the district, or based on the number of people in that district that can vote. The idea is that in districts where there are a lot of people but not a lot of eligible voters, those voters are more powerful given that they can have a larger effect on the outcome of any given election. It doesn’t take long to see all sorts of questions that the distinction draws. Should we count people who can vote or people who do vote? How does that shift the priorities of the official who wins the right to represent the district? Read More

California: State Looks At Colorado Voter Reform Model | FOX40

A joint committee of the legislature reviewed election reforms in Colorado to try to reverse the state’s trend of declining voter participation. A key strategy used in Colorado was to mail ballots to every registered voter whether or not they request it. “You put a ballot in the mailbox of every registered voter and surprise, surprise most of them mail it back,” said Secretary of State Alex Padilla. Read More

California: Alameda County settles suit with blind voters | San Francisco Chronicle

Blind voters in Alameda County may soon have an easier time voting in privacy after settling a lawsuit requiring better testing and upkeep of audio equipment that allows them to cast push-button secret ballots. The settlement follows a 2013 federal court ruling that applies disability law to the ballot box. The legal advocacy group Disability Rights Advocates announced the three-year settlement Wednesday after approval by county supervisors earlier this month. Prompted by blind voters’ complaints about equipment breakdowns in the 2012 elections, the agreement includes requirements for pre-election testing of each machine, hands-on training of poll workers, and an election day hotline to quickly repair or replace nonfunctioning equipment. Read More

Hawaii: Military Carve Out May Play Role in Voting District Case | Wall Street Journal

Hawaii may figure prominently when the Supreme Court this fall considers a case where plaintiffs are seeking to have legislative districts drawn based on a count of eligible voters rather than the total number of residents. That’s because for nearly half a century, the Aloha State has had the high court’s permission to ignore transients when drawing its political maps. While the Constitution requires equal population among legislative districts, a principle known as one-person, one-vote, a 1966 opinion said that Hawaii’s “special population problems” justified using registered voters as the baseline. The problem, as Hawaii saw it, was the large concentration of military facilities on Oahu. Counting tens of thousands of service members would distort the electoral maps by awarding legislative seats to military bases. Read More

Michigan: Bill to fix Flint primary could send clerk to election training |

Clerk Inez Brown could be required to attend training school and have her office’s election work approved by the Genesee County Clerk John Gleason under the provisions of a bill approved today, May 27, by the state House Elections Committee. The substitute bill would allow Flint to have a standard primary election in August despite no mayoral candidates having turned in nominating petitions on time after Brown’s office gave them the wrong filing deadline. Read More